Authors: Scotty Smiley with Doug Crandall
Titles: Hope Unseen
Publisher: Harper Books

Hope Unseen is much more than a war story, or a story of faith, or a feel-good inspirational tale. The incredible true story of Captain Scotty Smiley, the U.S. Army’s first blind active-duty officer, the book is candid, humble, and decidedly upbeat, despite the at-times bleak subject matter. Through transparent personal anecdotes and self-deprecating humor, Smiley communicates time and again one central message – hope is stronger than any of life’s obstacles.

Smiley’s story is tragic: in April, 2005, a suicide bomber blew up the Stryker armored vehicle he was driving outside Mosul, Iraq. Shrapnel from the blast pierced Smiley’s head, destroying his left eye and severing the optical nerve in his right eye. In an instant, Smiley changed from a promising, 20-something military officer with a bright future to a man whose life would never be the same. But, as Smiley emphasizes in Hope Unseen, that’s not the end of the story. While the book touches on his life before the Army, the bulk of the story deals with his recovery from his wounds, which included the aftermath of undergoing a craniotomy – a surgical procedure which removed the front left quarter of his skull to relieve swelling.

Following surgery in Germany, Smiley was moved to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then to Palo Alto, California, and finally to Fort Lewis, Washington. Smiley recounts three constants during each of these phases of his recovery: his wife Tiffany, his core of friends, and his faith. At first, Smiley struggled to come to grips with his injury. “I resented the theft of my dreams – my hopes of becoming a Fortune 500 CEO, or a Delta Force operator, or a four star general. Instead, I was a grown man who needed help walking across the street … I wanted to scream, but all I could do was cry.”

It’s this refreshing candidness that makes the book so endearing. Smiley is forthcoming with all aspects of his challenges with being blind, from stumbling through a VA Hospital parking lot to changing his son’s diaper. Through all the ups and downs, the goal is transparency, which makes for a compelling read. The resulting truths are profound. It’s not so much Smiley’s successes – among them climbing Mount Rainier, earning an M.B.A. from Duke University, and teaching at West Point – that are most instructive. It’s the way he has rallied around his faith under circumstances which drove him to the brink of despair. Nicknamed “The Oak” by his military buddies, Smiley shares the periods of his life where he ran from that moniker, but ultimately how he chose to persevere and choose hope, as the book’s title suggests.

When sharing his grief at not being able to see his children, Smiley says, “This is one of my losses. It hurts, but my hope is in the Lord. Every day I must choose to embrace the life he gave me. The first thing I will see when I get to heaven is Christ’s face. This gets me though the hard times.”

Whether the reader comes to Hope Unseen with a military, or a civilian, background, whether as a follower of Christ or not, or whether as someone familiar with Scott Smiley or not, the story told is gripping and honest at every turn. It will demand readers examine their own life and see how trust and hope could play a greater role. While so many books bill themselves as “inspirational,” this book truly earns that label.

*This review first published 2/1/2013